Author Brigitte Gilbert
Published May 2024
Report Type Bureau Brief No. BB170
Subject Sexual assault and violence
Keywords Sexual assault, Sexual offence, Attrition, Conviction rates

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There has been increasing concern over the low conviction rate for sexual assault. This paper uses data from the NSW Police Computerised Operational Policing System (COPS) and the NSW Criminal Courts datasets to track the progress of sexual assaults reported to the NSW Police Force in 2018 through the NSW criminal justice system. The study examines the attrition of incidents, defendants, and charges from the reporting stage through to the sentencing of a proven matter. Attrition rates are tracked separately for contemporary child sexual assault, historic child sexual assault, and adult sexual assault offences.

Key findings

Attrition of sexual assaults through the NSW Criminal Justice System
 Attrition of sexual assaults through the NSW Criminal Justice System
Key Points:
• In 2018, 5,869 incidents of sexual assault were reported to police; 14.9% or 872 resulted in a legal action involving 3,369 charges being laid against 969 defendants.
• Just 8% of reported contemporary child sexual assault incidents, 7% of reported historic sexual assault incidents and 6% of reported adult sexual assault incidents resulted in a proven charge.
• The largest point of attrition was observed during the investigation stage, with no legal action taken against an accused in 85% of reported sexual assault incidents.
• The second largest attrition point was during court proceedings, with 2 out of 5 defendants having all their charges withdrawn by the prosecution, dismissed due to mental health, or ‘otherwise’ disposed of.
• For the small number of matters that did progress to court, only a minority (41%) of defendants had a sexual offence charge proven against them, either by way of a guilty plea or guilty verdict.
• However, where a defendant was found guilty, the penalties imposed were severe, with 77% of guilty defendants being sentenced to custody.